What Is Socialism in 2020?

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© Darrell Arnold Ph.D.– (Reprinted with Permission)

We can see the mudslinging already. Trump’s attacks on Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar and other members of the “squad” as left extremists is just setting the tone for the 2020 election season. Regardless of who wins the primary, Bernie Sanders (the only avowed Democratic Socialist), Elisabeth Warren, or others — Trump will be casting them as socialists. This is part of his needed strategy. Given his unfavorables as the only recent president to never have achieved even a 50% favorability rating, he knows that his path to a second term is through scaremongering. He has to make the other candidate, whoever it is, seem scarier than he is. How will the candidate supported by Vladimir Putin do it? By calling up the specter of totalitarian socialism.

We all know the old Republican trope. Those who oppose laissez-faire capitalism are not just proponents of a welfare state or Keynesian economics, but of socialism, maybe communism. But socialism, of course, is a rather complex word. Trump hopes to capitalize on that complexity, and the darkness associated with some forms of it.

Of course, Bernie Sanders and all the other Democrats reject all forms of authoritarianism. One of their main talking points and grave concerns is precisely that Trump is working in a way that authoritarians often have in early stages, undermining the balance of powers, threatening political opponents, summoning up violence, trying to silence criticism by attacking the independent media. It’s quite easy to make the case that each of the Democratic candidates has less of an authoritarian impulse than Trump.

But what about their economic policies? Are they proposing the abdication of private property? No. The state ownership of all forms of production? No. In what way are they socialist then? Warren says flatly that she isn’t. But what does she want? It turns out to look a lot like what Sanders wants — namely policies that are very much like those of Social Democracies that emerged in Europe in the mid-20th century. These are policies can be seen in Germany, Sweden, and France, among other places. In each of those countries, everyone has property rights. Everyone has freedom of speech and the other typical civil liberties. In fact, each of these countries routinely ranks higher than the US on the major quality of life indexes of the UN.1 Now, are these countries socialist? Not in any traditional sense, though socialist and Social Democratic parties in each of these states helped them to develop the policies that they have.

So as Trump continues his scaremongering, this is what needs to be kept in mind. There is not one Democratic candidate on the left, even Bernie Sanders, who is advocating for anything other than what has just been outlined — policies that allow private entrepreneurs, protect property rights yet that see a need to regulate businesses and legislate policies that better ensure higher levels of education, healthcare policies that increase average life expectancy, corporate policies that secure worker safety and lead to a stronger more stable economy that doesn’t primarily aim to benefit millionaires but that focuses on the well-being of working people (while still having room for plenty of people who are millionaires).

The problem with the term “socialism” today is in some ways similar to that of the term “capitalism.” Neither word means what it once did. Just as some speak of various forms of socialism and include these Democratic Socialist countries in that categorization, others speak of various forms of capitalism and include these very same countries. In this latter context, we hear of Nordic State Capitalism, for Sweden, for example, or more generally “social capitalism.” Are these countries really socialist or capitalist? Well, in the traditional senses, they’re neither. Like the United States, they have politically controlled economies. But they’ve seen the need for more controls than the US has.

As we are now faced with 1.5 trillion dollars in student loan debt, a healthcare system that fails to cover all Americans while costing about twice as much as that in the other counties mentioned, an administration that denies climate change and is not even attempting to address it and burgeoning debt because of wasteful tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the time is ripe for a change in our politics — namely for a politics done less with a view to corporate interests and more with a view to the public interest. At the moment our greatest threat comes from an administration that is working precisely in the opposing direction. No Democrat in the field is as anywhere near as frightening as that.


  1. Some recent indexes have criticized the UN Human Development Index since it considers changes in three domains: economics, education and health. Other indexes include the human life indicator or the social progress index. I believe the very best index is the”Inequality-adjusted HDI published by the United Nations. It 2018 report ranks the USA 24th.
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9 thoughts on “What Is Socialism in 2020?

  1. “Of course, Bernie Sanders and all the other Democrats reject all forms of authoritarianism.”
    For this to be true, the meaning of the term “authoritarianism” must have changed in recent years, since hate speech laws and compulsory disarmament of citizens would have been considered authoritarian in not-too-distant the past (besides being outright unconstitutional).

  2. Hate speech laws and compulsory disarmament of citizens came about because America is not a civilized nation. If the degree of hatred and violence (often spectacular gun-violence) were radically reduced, there would be no need for hate speech & gun-control laws.

    Segue to Scandinavia: it took hundreds of years for Vikings to become peaceniks; with high tech remedies, it will take decades for the US to become civilized– and such is too far off in time to provide details. But we do know that no country as violent as America has universal healthcare and education, thus one can safely predict that several decades will pass until the US possesses the comforts of Scandinavia.

    We need idealists like Bernie and Liz.
    It is their ill-informed followers who pose the difficulty. If one is too idealistic, it turns into a religious hankering for a Fifth Great Awakening. That is not woke, that is woozy. Marxism failed for a similar reason, it rejected the ‘invisible hand’ of the marketplace for an equally nebulous ‘laws of history’.

    Next year will be the most exciting year ever. However activists shouldn’t set themselves up for a huge letdown. Older citizens ought to remind younger activists how hopes for 1968 were even higher than the high-flown hopes are now for 2020.

    Even if universal healthcare and education were to be instituted after 2020, how long would it be before the Right dismantles the programs? Look how quickly the silly old fool in the White House today demolished what Obama had constructed in eight years. Trump is not for something, he as no core beliefs– he is against Obama.

  3. Do want to write something about socialism, however it has already been covered, for our purposes here, enough in the article.
    The overarching complaint re socialism is that it is overly-idealistic. Yet so are all ideologies/creeds. Libertarianism is attractive, who would not wish to be freer? But libertarianism is a non-starter: everyone thinks they deserve what they can grab from both the public & private sectors. 2020 is not 1620.
    Am going to vote Democratic without so much as looking at the ballot. Reaganism was about transferring wealth upward via tax breaks. Our current chief executive is more ominous and priority 1 is voting him out– or reining him in. if for some appalling reason the president is re-elected, he has got to be kept on a very short leash.

  4. Peregrino: What hate speech laws or gun confiscation plans are you talking about? It would be helpful if you’d outline who has these proposals and what the nature of them are. Given your casual comments, I’m wondering how deep your knowledge is of the constitution. Before the Heller case, which was a 5-4 decision, there was no clear judgment from the supreme court that the second amendment even protected an individual’s right to own a gun. The language of the amendment is of a “well-armed militia.” And the Heller case, even according to Scalia, does not mean that there is an unlimited right of individuals to own all guns.

    As for hate speech laws, I’ll wait for the details about what proposals you’re talking about. But many European countries have more strictures on free speech than the US given their view that it often incites violence. Some cases are indeed hard calls. In a country as tainted by institutionalized racism as ours, hate speech in various settings might incite acts of violence. A suspicion might especially be worthy of consideration in cases like Charlottesville, where a demonstration of those engaged in hate speech led to the killing of a counter-protestor.

    Regardless of the rulings on “hate speech,” another good thing that would occur if any of the Democrats were elected is that White Supremacist terror groups in the US would be given the scrutiny that in many instances has been lifted under Trump. The incidents of hate crimes and violence, even violent killings, against minorities has risen under Trump. Such violence against minorities such as we’ve seen rise under Trump is, unfortunately, something also often associated with authoritarian regimes.

  5. The following is a link to possibly the most bizarre hate crime ever recorded:

    Article from three years ago, explaining why it is the 2nd amendment would have to be removed from the Constitution, if we were to be consistent. It might well come to such an end someday– as the 21st Amendment terminated the 18th Amendment:

    (The author is crypto- 2nd Amendment.)

  6. Alan – thanks for the links. I have a couple of forthcoming articles about guns coming out. JGM

  7. “I have a couple of forthcoming articles about guns coming out. JGM”

    Looking forward to it.
    Now we’re getting somewhere. If libertarians and 2nd amendment conservatives would go into more detail, they’d be worth talking to. Instead they merely in correctness declare that they have a right to gun ownership– yet what about using a gun?
    Peregrino Nuzkwamia is correct regarding the discrete topic of gun ownership. But self defense is much more involved than it might appear; if someone breaks into one’s house to rob, the homeowner is better off for their own sake in letting the criminal rob. The legal issues alone are daunting: the outcome is months in court if the homeowner kills or injures the robber. The cost to the taxpayer is many thousands for medical treatment and prosecution.

    To be consistent, 2nd amendment rights would make sense if concealed carry were allowed so anyone could defend themselves anywhere. However that would mean more regulation and more government. Today isn’t as is was in the Wild West, when someone was shot and carried off to Boot Hill to be buried. One wants to live the modern life, one has to put up with modern laws. The alternative is to leave the modern life and be self-reliant.

    So this is to say that a defense of 2nd Amendment Rights is Right in the abstract, yet the legal ramifications are extremely complicated. Owning a gun is Nothing compared to actually using the gun. Another reason libertarians are savvy-but-utopian.
    Which is only one reason we have the unending controversy, and will continue to.

  8. Best I can do, summed up in one paragraph:
    modernity-> postmodernity cannot be based on self-reliance. Conservatives & libertarians do not grasp this; if they wanted to be self-reliant they’d have to leave the urban/suburban life for the rural. Living in the non-rural environment, one is automatically plugged into government.
    Thus anti-government activists are lowered in expectation by claiming they are attempting to reduce the size of government– however they have failed to do so and will continue to.
    Self-interest means they will crusade against government while undermining their own efforts.

    Okay, that is enough for now, right?

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